A federal lawsuit filed by a woman who was tased by Harris County deputies while in a wheelchair can go to trial, after a judge on Tuesday rejected the county’s motion to have the case tossed.
In a lawsuit filed against Harris County and four sheriff’s deputies in 2017, Sheketha Holman alleged excessive force, false arrest, failure to intervene and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The county and the deputies filed a motion for summary judgment to avoid going to trial. U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore dismissed the false arrest claim but denied summary judgment on the other claims, meaning the case can go forward.
Citing the nature of the force alleged in the case, and expert testimony, Gilmore found that “a reasonable jury could find a custom and practice of using excessive force in the Sheriff’s department.”
On Nov. 16, 2016, deputies told Holman to leave a Valero gas station property in North Houston, according to court documents. After wheeling herself to her car, Holman got out her cellphone and a notepad. The deputies alleged she refused to leave the scene and tried to arrest her by handcuffing her behind her back.
Holman claims she asked to be handcuffed in front of her body because of her disability. Surveillance video of the scene shows a struggle between Holman and the deputies, and appears to show deputy Leland Fairchild shooting her in the back with a Taser, causing her to fall from her wheelchair.
Holman’s attorney Randall Kallinen said the judge’s decision is a rare victory against local governmental entities.
“In civil rights cases oftentimes the government is dismissed and the individuals are the only ones who go forward on the accusations of violations of civil rights,” he said.
One of the deputies, Rawltyn Hart, was fired by the sheriff’s office earlier this year for repeatedly neglecting to turn on his body camera and for keeping a “throw-down gun” — a gun with a scratched-off serial number that a police officer would plant on a suspect after shooting them to claim the person was armed — in his patrol car.
One month later, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez reinstated Hart after the deputy appealed his termination, according to a letter from the sheriff’s office.
Hart has denied the accusations, saying he just kept evidence in his car before turning it in.
The sheriff’s office said Hart has been terminated again for a policy violation unrelated to the incident described in the lawsuit.
“I took too many disciplines to get him fired,” Kallinen said. “That’s too much.”
The county attorney’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.